One notable aspect of Hu-Manity is that it manages all the user data via a blockchain, which is a concept that traces its roots back to the early Obama years.
The first iPhone was sold in 2007, and 18 months later another product launched that promised to be equally revolutionary. Bitcoin, created in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the great depression, was an alternative to the rickety, crash-prone global financial system. One of those products has been successful, and the other has had mixed results at best, but both have found uses, including at Hu-Manity and a few other ventures in the Route 1 corridor.
Bitcoin is an electronic currency that’s secured by cryptography: you can’t spend bitcoins in your account (called a “wallet”) unless you have a 256-bit “key.”
Cryptography, however, is not what makes Bitcoin special. What sets it apart from other online currencies is that there is no “Bitcoin” company or authority to keep track of who has what Bitcoin. Instead, the information is all on a distributed ledger of information called a “blockchain” that is stored on the computers of everyone who uses the system. The “blockchain” is what allows users to trade bitcoins back and forth without any central authority to verify the validity of the transactions. The blockchain is theoretically secure from manipulation because no one person can change the record.
(To learn about how Bitcoin works in depth, Princeton University offers a free online course that is open to the public. Arvind Narayanan, a computer science professor, teaches the Coursera course, which has earned rave reviews. For information, visit www.coursera.org/learn/cryptocurrency.)
Bitcoin never lived up to its expectations as an alternative currency — today it is held as an investment, but rarely used in purchases — but it did show that a secure database could exist in the real world without a central authority to govern it. Ever since Bitcoin’s launch, geeks, entrepreneurs, futurists, (and no small number of grifters) have been enthused about the possibilities for blockchain technology (U.S. 1, September 5).
Hu-Manity uses a blockchain model very different from Bitcoins. Bitcoin’s blockchain is public, whereas the Hu-Manity one is private. In this way, Hu-Manity avoids some of Bitcoin’s pitfalls, including the fact that Bitcoin uses vast amounts of electricity just to verify transactions.
“The vast majority of humans think blockchain and Bitcoin are the same thing but they’re not,” Michael DePalma of Hu-Manity says. “It’s kind of like when the Internet came along, everyone used it to build chat applications. Then someone built e-commerce, and everyone said, ‘Oh Jesus, let’s do that.’ Now you look at blockchain, and just about everyone uses blockchain in the same way — for a currency.” According to DePalma, blockchain “allows for trust and transparency. People’s choices about how, where, and if their data is used by companies will be recorded immutably on blockchain.”
While Hu-Manity is using blockchains in a novel way, another area business is sticking with the cryptocurrency route. Rohith Pasula, a Montgomery resident and sophomore at Syracuse University, has started a business called Kryptapurchase that offers a cryptocurrency purchasing service.
As anyone who has attempted to buy Bitcoin or one of its copycats such as Etherium or Litecoin knows, buying cryptocurrency is no easy task. Creating an account at Coinbase, the most popular cryptocurrency exchange site, is a cumbersome and lengthy process. Sometimes it takes a week or two for a transaction to go through.
Kryptapurchase simplifies this process by allowing clients to buy a package and in return receive a password-protected flash drive in the mail that contains the codes for their cryptocurrency purchase. If the drive is lost in the mail or is destroyed, the company will send you a backup. Kryptapurchase is able to send its customers currency immediately because it is holding some in reserve.
Pasula says he got some of the funding to start his company from his own savings, and some from his parents, who own IT consulting companies in the area. He says he also has made some money from buying and selling Bitcoins, as he bought some of the cryptocurrency at a low point in its value and was able to sell later for a profit.
While Hu-Manity and Kryptapurchase are among the first blockchain companies in the Route 1 corridor, the concept has generated widespread interest. Himanshu Bhatia, owner of Ricovr Healthcare, an AI-based tech company at 252 Nassau Street, has started the Blockchain Princeton meetup group, which has 621 members so far. For more information, visit www.meetup.com and search for “blockchain Princeton.”
At a July meeting of the group, a New York-based entrepreneur laid out his proposal for a blockchain-based video game called “One Game” that its creator intends to be a vibrant virtual world with users creating their own virtual realms, much like the movie and book “Ready Player One.”
The selling of medical records is big business. According to some estimates, the sale of patients’ information is a $67 billion industry, of which the patients themselves see exactly $0. One startup, Hu-Manity.co, aims to change all that by giving patients a way to control who sees their data — and to take a big cut of the sales if they choose to share it with researchers.
“We’re asking a fundamental question around who owns data,” says Michael DePalma, co-founder and COO of the company. “We believe it should be a fundamental human right that you own your data.”
The core technology of Hu-Manity, which is based at 20 Nassau Street in Princeton, is an app called “ #My31” that allows users to let data brokers know what they want to be done with their personal information. (It’s named after the company’s goal of making data ownership the 31st right, after the previous 30 that have been described in the U.N.’s Declaration of Human Rights.) Users of the #My31 app can either deny permission to use data, donate it for free, or sell it. This is all possible because of two major factors. The first is a sentence of fine print in a 22-year-old medical privacy law. The second is blockchain technology, which allows hu-manity.co to securely manage users’ choices about their data.
Medical data is generated in virtually every interaction anyone has with the healthcare system: every doctor’s visit, every body scan, every prescription filled is dutifully recorded somewhere and subsequently sold.
The book “Our Bodies, Our Data: How Companies Make Billions Selling Our Medical Records” details how data brokers buy your medical data from healthcare providers, sell it to other parties who combine it with other personal data that’s available on the open market, such as shopping habits, demographic information, and the like, and then sell it to pharmaceutical companies. The end customer, the drug maker, can use this information to gauge the effectiveness of their medications in different populations.
“Most people are profoundly disconnected with what is actually happening with medical data right now,” DePalma says. “When a patient goes to a doctor, the doctor uses electronic health record systems to manage care. What the doctors and patients don’t know is that their hospital, pharmacy, lab, and other providers are anonymizing data and selling it on the secondary market for profit.”
This information is very valuable to drug makers. By some estimates, they will pay anything from a few hundred to a thousand dollars for the medical records of one person.
But wait, what about your privacy? Aren’t there laws that prevent your medical information from being shared?
Most people think that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is supposed to prevent this from happening, but it does not. Instead, the law merely forces providers to anonymize patients’ medical data — that is, to remove identifying information such as the name, date of birth, and location data, and the last three digits of your ZIP code.
That worked perfectly well when the law was written, when “medical records” were pieces of paper in manila envelopes in a doctor’s office somewhere. (When the law was proposed in 1992 there were 50 websites in the entire world.) But in 2018 it is trivially easy to use artificial intelligence to re-identify the information and associate it with other records, creating valuable treasure troves of data.
HIPAA was meant to give patients privacy, but DePalma considers this an outdated concept. “Privacy is important, and I get it, but at this point it’s a meaningless story we tell ourselves to feel better. The only way to solve this problem is by property. By invoking your property rights to data, you can control it and manage it in the way that you would property.”
There is a legal mechanism to claim medical data as property. Anyone signing a medical HIPAA form at a healthcare provider probably overlooked a tiny piece of fine print that provides an address and phone number of a custodian of records and allows patients to restrict the use of their information if they so choose (though few people bother to do this.) When users sign up with Hu-Manity, the company will become their agent in dealing with these records custodians, and plans to negotiate terms for the sale of the data.
Hu-Manity will actually physically mail letters to the data brokers and says it can assert patients’ rights. “We are taking advantage of that language and that ability and doing so at scale. We will provide industry with a list of individuals who have opted in,” he says.
“What if we gave individuals a seat at the table?” DePalma says. “We want people to have control and some say in how they use their data. They should be able to determine who gets to use it and for what purpose.”
Currently, DePalma says, there is a massive amount of valuable data being generated, but none of the profits are being filtered back to the people who create the value.
“I hear all the time that ‘data is the new oil.’ It’s not the new oil,” DePalma says. “It’s different in that it is of greater value.” DePalma says that by his estimates, every individual should be able to get several hundred dollars for their medical data.
DePalma says medical data is just the beginning. The goal is to allow everyone to own all their personal data, and therefore own a piece of the $200 billion market that. This has social implications too: it would be a substantial downward transfer of wealth. He says it could even be a way to create a “universal basic income” to alleviate poverty. “Right now the way Universal Basic Income works is that you tax the hell out of these people and give it to these people, and the optics of that are pretty bad. It sort of lacks dignity,” he says. (DePalma acknowledges that there are in fact many people who would disagree that taxing the wealthy would be bad optics.) Selling personal data would provide a way for anyone to create income without it being a government benefit.
Hu-Manity would make money by getting paid a percentage of the transactions. “We only get paid when you do,” DePalma says.
DePalma grew up in North Jersey, where his father worked in pharmaceutical manufacturing. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology, neurobiology, and biopsychology at William Paterson University in 1995. Since then he has worked at various high-tech startups, most recently as managing director at WeFund Health in New York. He says Hu-Manity, which now has a team of about 30 people, chose Princeton due to its proximity to policy makers, academic and scientific research hubs, and funding. The other co-founder is CEO Richie Etwaru, an experienced IT executive and an adjunct professor of information technology at Syracuse University.
The app is already available to download. “We’ve been operating super, super fast. We’ve only been in existence five months and we’ve made incredible progress,” DePalma says. He says it is also in the early stages of negotiating with a customer on the data side.
“We are making the simple statement that ‘I as an individual own my data,’” DePalma says. “We’re creating a movement and executing it through technology.
The provider of billing services will hold a ribbon cutting ceremony for its new 90,000-square-foot corporate headquarters on Monday, September 24.
The company accepted a $12 million economic development incentive from the state Economic Development Authority to stay in New Jersey and hire 200 more workers. The company has hired 81 new worker this year as it moves from its existing headquarters on American Metro Boulevard in Hamilton.
A startup company is betting that drivers will be willing to subscribe to a car as if it were Netflix. Mobiliti is partnering with Route 1 Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram in Lawrenceville to offer its car subscription service, “subscribing” to vehicles for as little as a month at a time.
The flat monthly fee varies depends on the vehicle selected. Much like renting a car the traditional way, maintenance, roadside assistance, and insurance are included in the fee. Prices could range from $600 to $1,200.
“Vehicle subscriptions are perfect for people who are between leases, snowbirds, students who only need a vehicle a few months at a time, or even someone who simply wants to change make and models on a monthly basis,” a Mobiliti press release stated.
David Adjaye of Adjaye Associates has been selected as design architect, in collaboration with Cooper Robertson as executive architect, for the new Princeton University Art Museum.
The new museum will be built on the site of the old one. Erin Firestone, manager of marketing and public relations for the museum, said the design goal is to retain the Gothic Revival structure designed by Robert Cram along with the Marquand Art Library.
The university said the new museum will include enlarged exhibit areas and room for special exhibitions and art conservation, object study classrooms, and office space for a staff of 100.
Firestone said the museum plans to close its doors in 2020 and re-open three years later when the project is complete. However, this could change as the plan develops. Firestone said the museum will look for ways to continue to serve the campus and the broader community during the closure.
The architect that Princeton selected to design the new museum is responsible for a number of famous structures around the world.
“Sir David Adjaye is a renowned architect who has designed superb buildings for some of the world’s most admired cultural institutions,” said Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber. “Having taught on this campus, he understands fully what the university and the art museum are looking to accomplish. I am thrilled that Adjaye Associates and their skilled collaborators at Cooper Robertson will serve as the architects for this project.”
Adjaye is the principal and founder of Adjaye Associates, with offices in London; New York; and Accra, Ghana, and projects in the United States, United Kingdom, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Adjaye was born in Tanzania to Ghanaian parents and his influences range from contemporary art, music and science to African art forms and the civic life of cities. His work spans residential, commercial, corporate, retail and arts and civic institutions. He is also known for his frequent collaboration with contemporary artists on installations and exhibitions.
Most notably, he designed the central pavilion and main exhibition spaces for the 56th Venice Art Biennale with curator Okwui Enwezor in 2015. His largest project to date, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, opened on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in fall, 2016. From 2008 through 2010 Adjaye was a visiting professor at Princeton.
“Adjaye Associates and Cooper Robertson, both prominent architects in their own right, have teamed up to bring a creative and innovative approach to the design of the art museum project,” said KyuJung Whang, vice president for facilities at Princeton.
Highlights of Adjaye Associates’ work include the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway, the Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University and the Sugar Hill mixed-use social housing and museum scheme in Harlem, New York. Ongoing work includes the Ruby City art center for the Linda Pace Foundation in San Antonio, the new home for the Studio Museum in Harlem, the UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre next to the Houses of Parliament in London, as well as the National Cathedral of Ghana in Accra and the headquarters of the International Finance Corporation in Dakar, Senegal.
Princeton University, 1 Nassau Hall, Princeton 08544. 609-258-3000. Christopher Eisgruber, president. www.princeton.edu.
In a recent filing with the Shenzhen Stock Exchange Beijing Kaiwen Dexin Education Technology Co., Ltd. (“Kaiwen Education/The Company”) was required to provide supplemental information about its purchase of Westminster Choir College.
As part of the inquiry the company was asked to elaborate on “the pricing basis and rationality” of the transaction “in combination with the main assets of the subject, asset evaluation report and` the adjustment of the transaction price…in the agreement.”
In response Kaiwen Education made clear its intentions: “The scope of the acquisition subject includes all tangible assets, intangible assets, real estate, and used or available rights of the Westminster Choir College, Westminster Conservatory of Music, and Westminster Continuing Education, including but not limited to school premises; teaching equipment and facilities; licenses, agreements and other instruments related to such schools; all the courses; receivables; operational information and records; intellectual property, etc., as well as the donated funds to be transferred to Westminster Choir College and all the newly added donations received before the delivery date.”
The Kaiwen filing reveals that the endowment of Westminster Choir College, a non-profit corporation with tax deductible status, along with the campus and all college assets would become the property of a for-profit company. According to the federal tax code not-for-profit corporations must not be organized or operated for the benefit of private interests. But if this sale is consummated those assets will now benefit the for-profit corporation and its shareholders and that, we believe, is in clear violation of state and federal law.
All of these donations were made with the express and specific understanding that they were to a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) institution organized under New Jersey and federal charitable laws, their transfer to a for-profit commercial enterprise violates those regulations and the express wishes of the donors. This sale constitutes a raid on those assets and should be investigated by the appropriate governmental agencies.
In the meantime, Kaiwen Education continues to put up disturbingly poor economic numbers as revealed in its 2018 semi-annual report (August 7), which covers the first six months of this year. During this period Kaiwen reports a net loss of 51.7 million yuan on revenues of 89.4 million yuan, a loss of 57.8 percent, which follows a first quarter 2018 net loss of 74.3 percent. Looking ahead the company projects a net loss of from 65 to 75 million yuan for the period January – September 2018.
Kaiwen’s continuing pattern of net losses and very low cash to short-term debt raises serious concern about its ability to sustain itself over even the midterm and is another example of a reality that is very different than the one being promoted by the Rider administration.
Halpern is president of the Rider chapter of the American Association of University Professors.
The essence of the upcoming transformation of Westminster Choir College in Princeton to an independent music institution is to preserve and grow its legacy.
First and foremost, it provides the best chance that this vital, venerable, but financially struggling music education institution will survive and thrive.
The school will still be called Westminster Choir College and it won’t move from the leafy campus in Princeton, home since 1934. It’s nonprofit status and — more significant — WCC’s legacy and reputation will continue intact.
Despite unfounded allegations to the contrary, the school’s endowment fund will continue to be used solely to support the vision of sustaining and growing Westminster Choir College’s reputation as a world-class music school and maintaining it as an artistically preeminent, academically rigorous, and fiscally sound institution.
Since being named interim president of the Westminster Choir College Acquisition Corporation, a New Jersey non-profit corporation, my time on the Westminster campus has been eye-opening. I’ve met so many committed faculty and students who readily share their high hopes for the future of their institution.
Many of them, understandably, ask about Kaiwen Education, who the Rider University board of trustees in 2017 selected to help sustain Westminster Choir College. Kaiwen operates two prominent K-12 international schools in Beijing, China, for serious and talented youth. It is planning several more international school campuses to carry out the mission of educating young people to become open-minded, inquiring, courageous, reflective, principled, and caring citizens, through educational focus on an international curriculum of humanities, science, arts, and sports.
To these ends, and in anticipation of the planned June 30, 2019 transfer, the process of breathing new life into WCC has already begun. A talented team with experience in higher education, music, and business is being formed to develop ways by which WCC can become both financially sound and globally prestigious.
I’m very aware of the challenges that lie ahead. I am also committed to working collaboratively with everyone who has a stake in WCC’s future to preserve and enhance the renowned reputation of an esteemed institution by guiding it to a viable academic, artistic, and financial future.
I wouldn’t have accepted the challenge if I didn’t see Kaiwen Education as an outstanding partner capable of preserving what’s best about WCC and committed to its mission.
I bring relevant experience to the task, having served as vice president and music director of the New England Conservatory of Music, dean of the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University, and, most recently, dean of the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California.
Over my 25-year career as a music school administrator I raised more than $200 million, including a naming gift for the Thornton School, hired hundreds of faculty, helped create and launch myriad new curricula, and led major facilities expansions.
Among the many things I’ve learned is that there is no magic potion for success. Each institution I headed had unique assets and still faced formidable challenges.
Through careful analysis, extensive dialogue with everyone involved, and no small amount of good luck, all three schools are now flourishing. Though the solutions to challenges were different for each school, the common thread was that success would have been impossible without constant input from faculty, staff, alumni, and students.
I was hired to help steer WCC from unsustainable dependence on a parent institution to sustainable independence. Through strong academics, unparalleled music education, and positive engagement with the broader Westminster community, I am confident that sustainable growth for this jewel of an institution can become a reality.
Larry Livingston is a conductor, educator, and administrator. A graduate of the University of Michigan, he served as vice president and music director of the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston; dean of the Shepherd School of Music, Rice University; and dean of the Flora L. Thornton School of Music, University of Southern California.
American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote, “There are no second acts in American lives,” but Hamilton resident Howard Michaels is proving otherwise.
Since he retired in June from Lawrence Intermediate School, where he taught art for some 17 years, Michaels is launching what might be the fourth act of his life.
Just in the past couple of years, Michaels has found an artistic niche with his one-of-a-kind graphic portraits of rock music icons like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, George Harrison, David Bowie, Tina Turner, Bob Marley, Prince, and Amy Winehouse.
The Harrison piece, “When He Was Fab,” was created using hand-cut stencils and spray paint on a wood panel, and depicts a serene, somewhat mystical, young George Harrison.
The Winehouse work, “Body and Soul,” was crafted with hand-cut stencils, spray paint, and traditional acrylic paint and brush work on canvas.
These are just two examples of the art forms that had been percolating in Michaels’ imagination as he closed in on his retirement from LIS. He says if he’s not making something, he’s thinking about making something.
As the end of his teaching career approached, he also met and was encouraged by friends and connections he made within the Trenton mural arts/graffiti/activism community, folks such as Will “Kasso” Condry, Leon Rainbow, Dean “Ras” Innocenzi, and Jon “Lank” Conner. But more about those relationships later.
Michaels has gone from teaching to joining a handful of gifted local/regional artists who operate and exhibit at the Visual Stream Gallery Collective on North Main Street in Lambertville — where his portraits of music legends, as well as museum quality, giclee prints of his hand-tinted vintage Cape May beach scene, are currently on view.
Other gallery partners — connected through Trenton’s creative community — include Trenton-based sculptor Bruce Lindsay, artist and West Windsor Arts Council executive director Aylin Green, artist/jewelry maker Alia Benslimane, and mixed-media artist Kathleen Liao.
There is also the gallery’s first guest artist, Abelardo Montano, a Trenton resident whose digitally enhanced drawings and photography will be on exhibit through Friday, September 28.
Michaels says it was through Benslimane that he first heard about and got connected with Visual Stream.
“I went to an exhibit by women artists at a new gallery at the old Broad Street Bank (The BSB Gallery),” he says. “I heard some people, including Alia, talking about a co-op that was in the works, so I asked about it, asked them to keep me posted, and possibly included. Visual Stream opened during the Shad Fest in April.”
Michael was born in Paterson in 1951. His father owned the kind of urban general store you rarely see anymore.
“My dad had a 5 & 10 called Michaels Variety, and it was a real community store,” he says. “He had everything from toys to sewing and school supplies, and even a special Italian section with espresso cups and whatnot.”
“I used to work there, especially around Christmas time, up until my teens,” Michaels says, adding that his mom was a homemaker, but later worked in retail.
In addition, Michaels’ uncles in nearby Totowa had a drug store/consumer items store that was transformed into an art gallery in the late 1990s. Michaels eventually was invited to a show there and was surprised, “The gallery was in my uncles’ old pharmacy. I walked in, and I couldn’t believe it.”
Michaels says he didn’t come from an artistic family, but he always seemed to be drawing anyway and had a knack for it.
“Everyone knew I could draw, but I didn’t take extra classes or anything. I was actually more into sports,” he says, recalling games of stickball, softball, and basketball staged on the concrete playgrounds of Paterson.
To prove his point he shows a couple of drawings he did as a pre-teen, reflecting pop and sports culture of the early 1960s, as well as history.
In his collection there are drawings of Paul McCartney and the other Beatles, a dead-on depiction of his hero Mickey Mantle, and a thoughtful portrait of John F. Kennedy, which Michaels drew when he was in eighth grade, in 1964.
“I just had a knack for looking at photographs and drawing them, but Mickey Mantle really shows my passion,” Michaels says. He then tells a tale of childhood obsession with the Yankees.
“In the early 1960s it was the New York Yankees and Mantle that became my baseball passion,” he says. “I still remember 1961, when Rodger Maris and Mantle had one of the greatest historic seasons for hitting home runs.”
“I played all the sports but baseball was my favorite, from Little League through high school,” Michaels continues. “As a youngster I had many positions on the field: I pitched, played infield, and even caught as a (boy), then later in high school. Through all this, I always stayed creative, drawing and painting at home and school.”
Michaels’ skills and interest in art blossomed at William Paterson College, where he earned a BA in fine arts with a minor in art education in 1975.
After graduation, Michaels found himself Down Under, recruited to teach in a remote town in New South Wales, Australia, for two years.
He recalls having only about 10 students in a small classroom where, outside the windows, a herd of sheep might pass by at any time. He says some of his kids were partly Australian Aborigine in ethnicity, and he has maintained an interest in Aboriginal art and culture.
Sometimes he also uses Aboriginal design elements to accent his rock musician portraits, such as in his likeness of Prince.
On a hiatus from the classroom in the early 1980s, he and good friend Marsha Cudworth saw that Cape May was becoming a mecca for foodies and lovers of Victorian architecture, and the two artist/authors self-published two fully illustrated books about the town.
Then Michaels’ interest in historical scenes from the Garden State led him to develop a collection of original vintage Jersey Shore photographs, which he individually hand-tinted, using photo oils.
The hand-tinting work kept him quite busy for some time — with Michaels providing a 1991 cover for the Princeton Alumni Weekly commemorating the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Michaels’ art has also appeared on the cover and inside “Scholastic” magazine, “New Jersey Outdoors,” and “Victorian Homes.” A full-page example of his work was featured in the textbook, “The Marshall’s Hand Coloring Guide and Gallery Book” (Grace and George Schaub, 1995).
In addition to publications, Michaels has exhibited his hand-tinted works at locations such as the Noyes Museum at its former location in Oceanville, and elsewhere on the Jersey shore. And besides Visual Stream, Michaels also shows his hand-tinted pieces at venues in central Jersey, including the Brookwood Cafe in Hamilton.
He returned to the classroom in the 1990s, teaching art in the Ocean County school district, and was then hired by the Lawrence School District in 2001.
At LIS he discovered that cartooning (especially Sponge Bob) was an excellent way to relate with the fourth, fifth, and sixth grade art students.
Another venture into pop art he shared with his LIS students was “King Tut.” This dazzling and realistic sarcophagus began as a cardboard box and, through Michaels’ imagination and skill, grew to become a labor of love.
Then there was Michaels’ more recent “Funky Tut,” a custom x-ray (done by Michaels’ chiropractor) of the interior armature of Tut’s torso — the chicken wire, aluminum foil, screws, etc., that hold the thing together. Lit up with LED lights, it graced the window of Trenton Social bar and restaurant for a while. The multi-media construction is now on view at Visual Stream.
Returning to talk regarding Trenton, Michaels says there was something about the Trenton art scene that felt like home.
His connections with the Trenton art crowd began several years ago when he got involved with Artworks. There he met DJ/promoter/activist Jacque Howard, who drove him around the East Hanover neighborhood and brought him to the SAGE Coalition, just at the start of the Gandhi Garden.
“I met Kasso there when he was painting the Gandhi mural,” Michaels says. “That was when I recognized that the man in the SAGE logo was an Aborigine, and we connected over that.”
“That was the beginning of me hanging out in Trenton,” he says. “I met all the guys, but it was Jon Conner who really influenced me, his involvement with community activism and the ‘Windows of Soul’ project, I was part of that too.”
“I liked the young, energetic type of people I was meeting, and they didn’t judge me – I was their contemporary,” Michaels says. “All this energized me, helped me to focus on helping out as well as being part of the art scene, but I hadn’t started my own brand of art yet. I was more of an observer.”
Little by little, he experimented with painting on photography, showing some of this work at the Trenton Downtown Association’s now inactive Gallery 219 on East Hanover Street. Michaels also played with retro images of Twiggy and other fashion models from the 1960s, doing a combination of painting, photography and montage.
Michaels’ focus on musical superstars began after Prince died in 2016 and SAGE artists created a giant mural in tribute. Michaels was inspired to try and create a stencil of Prince, but didn’t quite know how it was done.
He says Conner gave him some artistic advice and moral support, telling him, “No matter what you do, it’ll be good.”
Michaels says he then “used the copy machine at school, made really big copies (of a Prince image) and pasted them on cardboard, then started cutting out around the lines. Leon Rainbow suggested I spray paint it. That was the beginning of me doing the music icons, spray painting around stencils.”
The Prince piece is titled “1999” and was crafted from hand-cut stencils, acrylic markers, and spray paint on fiber board. (The story of its creation is more complicated, but stop into Visual Stream and the artist will clue you in.)
Michaels later did an anti-violence poster featuring John Lennon, and followed that with Harrison, then David Bowie, Janis Joplin, etc., and then a self-portrait, showcasing his goatee, sunglasses, and headphones.
The artist has since shown his rock-related work at the Trenton Punk Rock Flea Market, Base Camp Trenton, Common Threads exhibitions at the Hopewell Valley Vineyard, Art All Night, Art All Day, and Verve restaurant in Somerville, among others. And coming up in November, he will exhibit a variety of prints and mixed media works at Sumo Sushi and Teppanyaki in Pennington.
Trenton’s new mayor, Reed Gusciora, is an admirer of Michaels’ work, and the artist’s graphic design/portrait of Jimi Hendrix hangs in a significant spot on the walls of City Hall.
“I had an art show at Base Camp Trenton where one room of the building is the Siegel-LaBate Realty Company (on Front Street),” he says. “The rest of this renovated townhouse is used to rent temporary office space. What I didn’t know was that a few months earlier, it was also the campaign headquarters for Reed Gusciora.”
The mayor, who had previously met Michaels during a Trenton Social bike ride through the city’s historic sites, saw Michaels’ work and was drawn to the Hendrix graphic design with the quote, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”
“While discussing my art work with him, I got a general sense of why this particular piece interested (the mayor),” Michaels says. “Besides liking my nostalgic rock legends series, I think this quote really resonated with the Mayor. It’s a very positive message for a politician and for the city as well.”
Visual Stream Gallery Collective, 7 North Main Street, Lambertville. Guest artist Abelardo Montano on exhibit through Friday, September 28. Hours: Fridays and Saturdays, 1 to 7 p.m., and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. www.facebook.com/visualstream/
Michaels’ art will also be exhibited at Sumo Sushi and Teppanyaki, 12 South Main Street, Pennington in November. 609-737-8788. www.sumo12.com.
The first thing to arrest your eye as you enter the Zimmerli exhibit, “Self-Confessed! The Inappropriately Intimate Comics of Alison Bechdel,” on view through December 30, is the ginormous board game for “A Story About Life.” As you wend your way around the tiles, you glean such bits as “careers in writing and accounting are not so dissimilar” (there’s an illustration of a well-loved wooden pencil) and that truth, compared to fiction, can be dull (a woman with a boyish haircut blurts “sex!”).
In the next move, the board offers a player the choice of two paths: “You go to a party, have fun, write a novella about someone at the party, it gets rejected, you drink too much, and then write a bestseller and collect $9,500,000”; or, “you marry a person at the party, divorce, and your children enter rehab.”
It’s classic Alison Bechdel. The MacArthur Fellowship Award-winning graphic memoirist combines writing, visual art, cutting humor, literary knowledge, and wisdom to get to the core issues, deftly using line to express her characters’ complex emotions. Since the 1980s she has built an ardent following, mining her intimate experiences to communicate something vitally human: the quest for love, acceptance, community, and social justice.
When Bechdel’s “Dykes To Watch Out For” (DTWOF) strip began running in alternative newspapers, it was anything but mainstream. Now the 58-year-old is a critically acclaimed pop-culture and literary phenomenon, with a New York Times bestseller and Tony Award-winning musical to her credit.
In the museum’s presentation of an episode from Bechdel’s pioneering comic strip “Essential Dykes to Watch Out For,” we see the self-archivist at her desk with piles of volumes such as “Brides of Dykes to Watch Out For (DTWOF),” “DTWOF Strike Back,” “Dawn of the DTWOF,” “DTWOF: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” and — the penultimate sequel — “Perimenopausal DTWOF.”
With more than 150 objects, “Self-Confessed!” also features sections from the graphic memoirs “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” and “Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama.” A model of the set for the 2015 Tony Award-winning musical “Fun Home” is on view, along with clips from the New York performances. The museum will hold a free public reception on Thursday, September 20, and Bechdel will speak at Rutgers on Wednesday, October 10, at Kirkpatrick Chapel.
“DTWOF,” about the lives of a group of lesbian friends, ran from 1983 to 2008 and was syndicated in more than 50 alternative papers around the country. In 2006 Bechdel published the graphic memoir “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic,” which explores her relationship with her father, her coming out, and his possible suicide. Fun home was the family nickname for their funeral business. A New York Times bestseller, “Fun Home” became the basis of the musical of the same name.
Bechdel followed up in 2012 with “Are You My Mother?: Comic Drama,” which explores her relationship with her mother, girlfriends, therapists, and her interest in psychoanalytic theory.
“The Amazon’s Bedside Companion: A Sapphisticated Alphabet” (1986) is, in Bechdel’s words, “a catalog of lesbians” that takes the format of a children’s alphabet book. “A is for Alice who liked to cook soup (‘The Joy of Lesbian Cooking’ is pictured on the table behind her), B is for Blanca who sat on the stoop, C is for Cleo who wouldn’t eat meat (she tends a huge block of tofu on the grill alongside the T-bone of her butchier companion), D is for Deirdre who worked on Wall Street (crossed legs propped on a desk, phone off the hook).”
“The bildungsroman (coming-of-age novel) holds a long and proud place in world literature from Goethe to Philip Roth,” says Thomas Sokolowski, the Zimmerli’s director. “Alison Bechdel joins this coterie with her wry and poignant graphic novels. Conjoining her talents as a writer and an illustrator, she adroitly provides a guidebook for young people striving to find out just who they are. For this alone, she deserves our eternal gratitude.” Sokolowski, who celebrates his one-year anniversary at the Zimmerli next month — he was previously at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh — is psyched about the exhibit, his first big project. “I’ve been interested in her work for a while, and the English department here at Rutgers includes three faculty members whose scholarship area is the graphic novel. So many graphic novels are diaristic and about coming to terms with the self in dysfunctional families. When these authors speak about these feelings their readers are willing to open up when they read about someone like themselves.”
In addition to Bechdel’s work, the exhibition includes drawings, prints, and books by three additional graphic memoirists whose voices reflect experiences shared by many Americans today. Thi Bui’s “The Best We Could Do” (2017) documents the ongoing effects that immigration has on a family, even as its members assimilate to their new homes.
In “Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me: A Graphic Memoir” (2012), cartoonist Ellen Forney recounts how she managed a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and her years-long struggle to find mental stability, while retaining her passion and creativity.
Iraq veteran Maximilian Uriarte’s “White Donkey: Terminal Lance” (2016), a graphic novel that evolved from the comic strip and website he started in 2010, satirizes daily life in the United States Marine Corps.
With the exception of these additional three artists, unique to the Zimmerli’s presentation, the exhibition originated at the Fleming Museum of Art at the University of Vermont in Burlington. Bechdel played an active role, producing original, large-scale illustrations on the walls — these have been transferred, in vinyl, to the walls of the Zimmerli.
“Bechdel’s books and comics have a broad following on campus and this exhibition provides an important opportunity for a campus-wide conversation about the arts in a variety of forms, the memoir as a device for storytelling, and LGBTQ lives,” says Donna Gustafson, the Zimmerli’s curator of American art and director for academic programs who organized the Zimmerli’s presentation. “She is a brilliant cartoonist and storyteller, and this show explores her literary output from the perspective of the visual.”
Whether to call the works graphic novel or memoir is a fine line, Gustafson admits. “The truth is many sided,” she says. “It’s true in the larger sense, if not the details.” Bechdel herself refers to it as “compression of truth.”
The exhibition would probably have not have found a home at the Zimmerli in earlier decades, says Gustafson, but the time for it is right because the art world has come to embrace the graphic novel. “Rutgers has one of the most diverse student populations of any university in America, being representative of New Jersey,” Gustafson says. Also, the form ties in with the Zimmerli’s collection of 19th-century French political cartoons by Honore Daumier.
Presenting a graphic novel in a museum setting comes with its challenges. “It’s a funny inversion,” says Gustafson. “In the graphic novel the printed page is final, so we have reproductions of the printed page on the wall with the actual drawings in cases. Alison thinks of the drawings as preliminary, but to a curator, it’s the hand-drawn object that is more precious.”
Reading the pages on the wall holds appeal for those who have already read her works because they are organized by topics such as literary references or maps; and it holds the excitement of discovery for those who are new to Bechdel, spurring them to read more of the works. For hardcore Bechdel fans, there are early drawings, pages from her daily diary drawings, as well as large works in ink on Kraft paper about her life: at a computer wearing Crocs, in the grips of a vice, on waterskis, and always with a black cat somewhere in the scene. In the margin of one is a note: “Fix cat. Make it Siamese?”
“She has a very expressive line, representing emotion through body language and facial expression, and is able to layer thinking on top of verbal text and the passage of time,” says Gustafson. In “Are You My Mother,” she weaves together text from psychoanalysts, their personal lives, the writings of Virginia Woolf, and illustrations of what she perceives as her own tormented childhood.
In “One Enchanted Evening,” two women chat over tea about one’s failed romantic attempts. “What about the woman in your karate class you were so hot for?” (Bechdel has a black belt.) “She wasn’t intellectual enough. Besides she doesn’t sleep with other karate students.” “What about Naomi from the food coop?” “Are you crazy? I’m way too crushed out! I can’t even ask her where the bulgur is without hyperventilating.” In the cartoon’s coda: “Is Mo a hopelessly romantic idealist, trapped in the hard-nosed fast-paced whirlwind of modern lesbian life? Or is she just a drag? Stay tuned!”
Bechdel is the James Marsh Professor-At-Large at the University of Vermont. She lived in Minneapolis after graduation from Oberlin College in Ohio and tells how she got to Vermont in a cartoon from “State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America” (2008): “In many ways I’m your typical Vermonter — chai-sipping, artisanal-cheese-eating, NPR-listening, Subaru-driving, left-wing-freak-show-who-came-from-somewhere-else homosexual.”
While in Minneapolis she received a letter from a complete stranger. “I loved your book. If you ever find yourself in Vermont, come visit my old farmhouse on an island in the middle of Lake Champlain.” Within three months Bechdel was living with the letter writer. (She subsequently left that relationship and, in 2005, married Holly Rae Taylor, an artist and compost maven.)
“I was confused, I’d fallen in love not with this person but with this place.” She describes what she calls her first erotic experience, at age 4, when her grandfather — a goat herder from the Austrian Alps — took her to see “The Sound of Music,” in which the Von Trapp family moves to Vermont and opens a tourist lodge in the rolling valley outside of Stowe.
Many may know of Alison Bechdel from the Bechdel test, used to evaluate representation of women in media using the following criteria: the movie has to have at least two women in it who converse with each other about something besides a man. The concept originated in 1985 in “Dykes to Watch Out For” but Bechdel prefers to call it the Bechdel-Wallace test because it was articulated by her friend, Liz Wallace. Bechdel also points out that it was Virginia Woolf who first looked at literature that way.
Bechdel grew up in rural Beech Creek, Pennsylvania, situated between the Allegheny Plateau and the Appalachians. The family lived in an ornate Victorian home that her father obsessively decorated, as recounted in “Fun Home.” Her father was an English teacher and undertaker, and her mother an actress, costume designer, poet, and teacher. Her father shared his love of literature with her, and her mother helped Alison with her journaling.
As a child, Bechdel conflated the careers of cartoonist and psychoanalyst, thanks to people-on-the-couch cartoons she saw in the New Yorker. She left high school a year early to attend Simons Rock College, then transferred to Oberlin, where she studied studio art and art history. It was at Oberlin that she came out as a lesbian, and in the “Fun Home” play her character sings “I’m changing my major to Joan.”
Bechdel’s cartooning process begins in Adobe Illustrator. She plans, writes, and lays out her story on the computer before moving on to the actual physical drawing. While drawing, she relies on reference photos and props to sketch from, often photographing herself posing as her family members. She refines each image with a succession of pencil drawings, sometimes scanning and editing them digitally. Bechdel paints a separate ink wash layer for shading, adding depth, realism, and complexity to the images, and breaks from the standard grid of her pages when the story or image calls for it.
Bechdel is at work on a new memoir, “The Secret to Superhuman Strength,” about her interests in physical fitness. In an interview in the Guardian, Bechdel admits that, had “Fun Home” not taken off, her financial situation was such that she would have had to find other work — the newspapers in which she was syndicated were consolidating and folding.
Instead, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography and winner of an Eisner Award for Best Reality-Based Work, among other accolades, “Fun Home” has been published in 25 languages.
Self-Confessed! The Inappropriately Intimate Comics of Alison Bechdel, Zimmerli Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick. Through December 30. Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays, noon to 5 p.m. First Tuesday of each month, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Public reception Thursday, September 20, 4:30 to 7 p.m. Free.
Presentation by Bechdel, Kirkpatrick Chapel, 81 Somerset Street, New Brunswick. Wednesday, October 10, 7 p.m. Registration required. Free. 848-932-7237 or www.zimmerli.rutgers.edu.